One autumn five years ago, I chanced, when on the road from Moscow to Tula, to spend almost a whole day at a posting station for want of horses. I was on the way back from a shooting expedition, and had been so incautious as to send my three horses on in front of me. The man in charge of the station, a surly, elderly man, with hair hanging over his brows to his very nose, with little sleepy eyes, answered all my complaints and requests with disconnected grumbling, slammed the door angrily, as though he were cursing his calling in life, and going out on the steps abused the postilions who were sauntering in a leisurely way through the mud with the weighty wooden yokes on their arms, or sat yawning and scratching themselves on a bench, and paid no special attention to the wrathful exclamations of their superior. I had already sat myself down three times to tea, had several times tried in vain to sleep, and had read all the inscriptions on the walls and windows; I was overpowered by fearful boredom. In chill and helpless despair I was staring at the upturned shafts of my carriage, when suddenly I heard the tinkling of a bell, and a small trap, drawn by three jaded horses, drew up at the steps. The new arrival leaped out of the trap, and shouting ‘Horses! and look sharp!’ he went into the room. While he was listening with the strange wonder customary in such cases to the overseer’s answer that there were no horses, I had time to scan my new companion from top to toe with all the greedy curiosity of a man bored to death. He appeared to be nearly thirty. Small-pox had left indelible traces on his face, which was dry and yellowish, with an unpleasant coppery tinge; his long blue-black hair fell in ringlets on his collar behind, and was twisted into jaunty curls in front; his small swollen eyes were quite expressionless; a few hairs sprouted on his upper lip. He was dressed like a dissipated country gentleman, given to frequenting horse-fairs, in a rather greasy striped Caucasian jacket, a faded lilac silk-tie, a waistcoat with copper buttons, and grey trousers shaped like huge funnels, from under which the toes of unbrushed shoes could just be discerned. He smelt strongly of tobacco and spirits; on his fat, red hands, almost hidden in his sleeves, could be seen silver and Tula rings. Such figures are met in Russia not by dozens, but by hundreds; an acquaintance with them is not, to tell the truth, productive of any particular pleasure; but in spite of the prejudice with which I looked at the new-comer, I could not fail to notice the recklessly good-natured and passionate expression of his face.
‘This gentleman’s been waiting more than an hour here too,’ observed the overseer indicating me.
More than an hour! The rascal was making fun of me.
‘But perhaps he doesn’t need them as I do,’ answered the new comer.
‘I know nothing about that,’ said the overseer sulkily.
‘Then is it really impossible? Are there positively no horses?’
‘Impossible. There’s not a single horse.’
‘Well, tell them to bring me a samovar. I’ll wait a little; there’s nothing else to be done.’
The new comer sat down on the bench, flung his cap on the table, and passed his hand over his hair.
‘Have you had tea already?’ he inquired of me.
‘But won’t you have a little more for company.’
I consented. The stout red samovar made its appearance for the fourth time on the table. I brought out a bottle of rum. I was not wrong in taking my new acquaintance for a country gentleman of small property. His name was Piotr Petrovitch Karataev.
We got into conversation. In less than half-an-hour after his arrival, he was telling me his whole life with the most simple-hearted openness.
‘I’m on my way to Moscow now,’ he told me as he sipped his fourth glass; ‘there’s nothing for me to do now in the country.’
‘Well, it’s come to that. My property’s in disorder; I’ve ruined my peasants, I must confess; there have been bad years: bad harvests, and all sorts of ill-luck, you know. . . . Though, indeed,’ he added, looking away dejectedly; ‘how could I manage an estate!’
‘But, no,’ he interrupted me? ‘there are people like me who make good managers! You see,’ he went on, screwing his head on one side and sucking his pipe assiduously, ‘looking at me, I dare say you think I’m not much . . . but you, see, I must confess, I’ve had a very middling education; I wasn’t well off. I beg your pardon; I’m an open man, and if you come to that. . . . ’
He did not complete his sentence, but broke off with a wave of the hand. I began to assure him that he was mistaken, that I was highly delighted to meet him, and so on, and then observed that I should have thought a very thorough education was not indispensable for the good management of property.
‘Agreed,’ he responded; ‘I agree with you. But still, a special sort of disposition’s essential! There are some may do anything they like, and it’s all right! but I. . . . Allow me to ask, are you from Petersburg or from Moscow?’
‘I’m from Petersburg.’
He blew a long coil of smoke from his nostrils.
‘And I’m going in to Moscow to be an official.’
‘What department do you mean to enter?’
‘I don’t know; that’s as it happens. I’ll own to you, I’m afraid of official life; one’s under responsibility at once. I’ve always lived in the country; I’m used to it, you know . . . but now, there’s no help for it . . . it’s through poverty! Oh, poverty, how I hate it!’
‘But then you will be living in the capital.’
‘In the capital. . . . Well, I don’t know what there is that’s pleasant in the capital. We shall see; may be, it’s pleasant too. . . . Though nothing, I fancy, could be better than the country.’
‘Then is it really impossible for you to live at your country place?’
He gave a sigh.
‘Quite impossible. It’s, so to say, not my own now.’
‘Why, how so?’
‘Well, a good fellow there — a neighbour — is in possession . . . a bill of exchange.’
Poor Piotr Petrovitch passed his hand over his face, thought a minute, and shook his head.
‘Well?’ . . . I must own, though,’ he added after a brief silence, ‘I can’t blame anybody; it’s my own fault. I was fond of cutting a dash, I am fond of cutting a dash, damn my soul!’
‘You had a jolly life in the country?’ I asked him.
‘I had, sir,’ he responded emphatically, looking me straight in the face, ‘twelve harriers — harriers, I can tell you, such as you don’t very often see.’ (The last words he uttered in a drawl with great significance.) ‘A grey hare they’d double upon in no time. After the red fox — they were devils, regular serpents. And I could boast of my greyhounds too. It’s all a thing of the past now, I’ve no reason to lie. I used to go out shooting too. I had a dog called the Countess, a wonderful setter, with a first-rate scent — she took everything. Sometimes I’d go to a marsh and call “Seek.” If she refused, you might go with a dozen dogs, and you’d find nothing. But when she was after anything, it was a sight to see her. And in the house so well-bred. If you gave her bread with your left hand and said, “A Jew’s tasted it,” she wouldn’t touch it; but give it with your right and say, “The young lady’s had some,” and she’d take it and eat it at once. I had a pup of hers — capital pup he was, and I meant to bring him with me to Moscow, but a friend asked me for him, together with a gun; he said, “In Moscow you’ll have other things to think of.” I gave him the pup and the gun; and so, you know, it stayed there.’
‘But you might go shooting in Moscow.’
‘No, what would be the use? I didn’t know when to pull myself up, so now I must grin and bear it.
But there, kindly tell me rather about the living in Moscow — is it dear?’
‘No, not very.’
‘Not very. . . . And tell me, please, are there any gypsies in Moscow?’
‘What sort of gypsies?’
‘Why, such as hang about fairs?’
‘Yes, there are in Moscow. . . . ’
‘Well, that’s good news. I like gypsies, damn my soul! I like ’em. . . . ’
And there was a gleam of reckless merriment in Piotr Petrovitch’s eyes. But suddenly he turned round on the bench, then seemed to ponder, dropped his eyes, and held out his empty glass to me.
‘Give me some of your rum,’ he said.’
‘But the tea’s all finished.’
‘Never mind, as it is, without tea . . . Ah — h!’ Karataev laid his head in his hands and leaned his elbows on the table. I looked at him without speaking, and although I was expecting the sentimental exclamations, possibly even the tears of which the inebriate are so lavish, yet when he raised his head, I was, I must own, impressed by the profoundly mournful expression of his face.
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘Nothing. . . . I was thinking of old times. An anecdote that . . . I would tell it you, but I am ashamed to trouble you. . . . ’
‘Yes,’ he went on with a sigh:—‘there are cases . . . like mine, for instance. Well, if you like, I will tell you. Though really I don’t know. . . . ’
‘Do tell me, dear Piotr Petrovitch.’
‘Very well, though it’s a . . . Well, do you see,’ he began; ‘but, upon my word, I don’t know.’
‘Come, that’s enough, dear Piotr Petrovitch.’
‘All right. This, then, was what befel me, so to say. I used to live in the country . . . All of a sudden, I took a fancy to a girl. Ah, what a girl she was! . . . handsome, clever, and so good and sweet! Her name was Matrona. But she wasn’t a lady — that is, you understand, she was a serf, simply a serf-girl. And not my girl; she belonged to someone else — that was the trouble. Well, so I loved her — it’s really an incident that one can hardly . . . well, and she loved me, too. And so Matrona began begging me to buy her off from her mistress; and, indeed, the thought had crossed my mind too. . . . But her mistress was a rich, dreadful old body; she lived about twelve miles from me. Well, so one fine day, as the saying is, I ordered my team of three horses to be harnessed abreast to the droshky — in the centre I’d a first-rate goer, an extraordinary Asiatic horse, for that reason called Lampurdos — I dressed myself in my best, and went off to Matrona’s mistress. I arrived; it was a big house with wings and a garden. . . . Matrona was waiting for me at the bend of the road; she tried to say a word to me, but she could only kiss her hand and turn away. Well, so I went into the hall and asked if the mistress were at home? . . . And a tall footman says to me: “What name shall I say?” I answered, “Say, brother, Squire Karataev has called on a matter of business.” The footman walked away; I waited by myself and thought, “I wonder how it’ll be? I daresay the old beast’ll screw out a fearful price, for all she’s so rich. Five hundred roubles she’ll ask, I shouldn’t be surprised.” Well, at last the footman returned, saying, “If you please, walk up.” I followed him into the drawing-room. A little yellowish old woman sat in an armchair blinking. “What do you want?” To begin with, you know, I thought it necessary to say how glad I was to make her acquaintance. . . . “You are making a mistake; I am not the mistress here; I’m a relation of hers. . . . What do you want?” I remarked upon that, “I had to speak to the mistress herself.” “Marya Ilyinishna is not receiving to-day; she is unwell. . . . What do you want?” There’s nothing for it, I thought to myself; so I explained my position to her. The old lady heard me out. “Matrona! what Matrona?”
‘“Matrona Fedorovna, Kulik’s daughter.”
‘“Fedor Kulik’s daughter. . . . But how did you come to know her?” “By chance.” “And is she aware of your intention?” “Yes.” The old lady was silent for a minute. Then, “Ah, I’ll let her know it, the worthless hussy!” she said. I was astounded, I must confess. “What ever for? upon my word! . . . I’m ready to pay a good sum, if you will be so good as to name it.”’
‘The old hag positively hissed at me. “A surprising idea you’ve concocted there; as though we needed your money! . . . I’ll teach her, I’ll show her! . . . I’ll beat the folly out of her!” The old lady choked with spitefulness. “Wasn’t she well off with us, pray? . . . Ah, she’s a little devil! God forgive my transgressions!” I fired up, I’ll confess. “What are you threatening the poor girl for? How is she to blame?” The old lady crossed herself. “Ah, Lord have mercy on me, do you suppose I’d . . . ” “But she’s not yours, you know!” “Well, Marya Ilyinishna knows best about that; it’s not your business, my good sir; but I’ll show that chit of a Matrona whose serf she is.” I’ll confess, I almost fell on the damned old woman, but I thought of Matrona, and my hands dropped. I was more frightened than I can tell you; I began entreating the old lady. “Take what you like,” I said. “But what use is she to you?” “I like her, good ma’am; put yourself in my position. . . . Allow me to kiss your little hand.” And I positively kissed the wretch’s hand! “Well,” mumbled the old witch, “I’ll tell Marya Ilyinishna — it’s for her to decide; you come back in a couple of days.” I went home in great uneasiness. I began to suspect that I’d managed the thing badly; that I’d been wrong in letting her notice my state of mind, but I thought of that too late. Two days after, I went to see the mistress. I was shown into a boudoir. There were heaps of flowers and splendid furniture; the lady herself was sitting in a wonderful easy-chair, with her head lolling back on a cushion; and the same relation was sitting there too, and some young lady, with white eyebrows and a mouth all awry, in a green gown — a companion, most likely. The old lady said through her nose, “Please be seated.” I sat down. She began questioning me as to how old I was, and where I’d been in the service, and what I meant to do, and all that very condescendingly and solemnly. I answered minutely. The old lady took a handkerchief off the table, flourished it, fanning herself. . . . “Katerina Karpovna informed me,” says she, “of your scheme; she informed me of it; but I make it my rule,” says she, “not to allow my people to leave my service. It is improper, and quite unsuitable in a well-ordered house; it is not good order. I have already given my orders,” says she. “There will be no need for you to trouble yourself further,” says she. “Oh, no trouble, really. . . . But can it be, Matrona Fedorovna is so necessary to you?” “No,” says she, “she is not necessary.” “Then why won’t you part with her to me?” “Because I don’t choose to; I don’t choose — and that’s all about it. I’ve already,” says she, “given my orders: she is being sent to a village in the steppes.” I was thunderstruck. The old lady said a couple of words in French to the young lady in green; she went out. “I am,” says she, “a woman of strict principles, and my health is delicate; I can’t stand being worried. You are still young, and I’m an old woman, and entitled to give you advice. Wouldn’t it be better for you to settle down, get married; to look out a good match; wealthy brides are few, but a poor girl, of the highest moral character, could be found.” I stared, do you know, at the old lady, and didn’t understand what she was driving at; I could hear she was talking about marriage, but the village in the steppes was ringing in my ears all the while. Get married! . . . what the devil! . . . ’
Here he suddenly stopped in his story and looked at me.
‘You’re not married, I suppose?’
‘There, of course, I could see it. I couldn’t stand it. “But, upon my word, ma’am, what on earth are you talking about? How does marriage come in? I simply want to know from you whether you will part with your serf-girl Matrona or not?” The old lady began sighing and groaning. “Ah, he’s worrying me! ah, send him away! ah!” The relation flew to her, and began scolding me, while the lady kept on moaning: “What have I done to deserve it? . . . I suppose I’m not mistress in my own house? Ah! ah!” I snatched my hat, and ran out of the house like a madman.
‘Perhaps,’ he continued, ‘you will blame me for being so warmly attached to a girl of low position; I don’t mean to justify myself exactly, either . . . but so it came to pass! . . . Would you believe it, I had no rest by day or by night. . . . I was in torment! Besides, I thought, “I have ruined the poor girl!” At times I thought that she was herding geese in a smock, and being ill-treated by her mistress’s orders, and the bailiff, a peasant in tarred boots, reviling her with foul abuse. I positively fell into a cold sweat. Well, I could not stand it. I found out what village she had been sent to, mounted my horse, and set off. I only got there the evening of the next day. Evidently they hadn’t expected such a proceeding on my part, and had given no order in regard to me. I went straight to the bailiff as though I were a neighbour; I go into the yard and look around; there was Matrona sitting on the steps leaning on her elbow. She was on the point of crying out, but I held up my finger and pointed outside, towards the open country. I went into the hut; I chatted away a bit to the bailiff, told him ten thousand lies, seized the right moment, and went out to Matrona. She, poor girl, fairly hung round my neck. She was pale and thin, my poor darling! I kept saying to her, do you know: “There, it’s all right, Matrona; it’s all right, don’t cry,” and my own tears simply flowed and flowed. . . . Well, at last though, I was ashamed, I said to her: “Matrona, tears are no help in trouble, but we must act, as they say, resolutely; you must run away with me; that’s how we must act.” Matrona fairly swooned away. . . . “How can it be! I shall be ruined; they will be the death of me altogether.” “You silly! who will find you?” “They will find me; they will be sure to find me. Thank you, Piotr Petrovitch — I shall never forget your kindness; but now you must leave me; such is my fate, it seems.” “Ah, Matrona, Matrona, I thought you were a girl of character!” And, indeed, she had a great deal of character. . . . She had a heart, a heart of gold! “Why should you be left here? It makes no difference; things can’t be worse. Come, tell me — you’ve felt the bailiff’s fists, eh?” Matrona fairly crimsoned, and her lips trembled. “But there’ll be no living for my family on my account.” “Why, your family now — will they send them for soldiers?” “Yes; they’ll send my brother for a soldier.” “And your father?” “Oh, they won’t send father; he’s the only good tailor among us.”
‘“There, you see; and it won’t kill your brother.” Would you believe it, I’d hard work to persuade her; she even brought forward a notion that I might have to answer for it. “But that’s not your affair,” said I. . . . However, I did carry her off . . . not that time, but another; one night I came with a light cart, and carried her off.’
‘You carried her off?’
‘Yes . . . Well, so she lived in my house. It was a little house, and I’d few servants. My people, I will tell you frankly, respected me; they wouldn’t have betrayed me for any reward. I began to be as happy as a prince. Matrona rested and recovered, and I grew devoted to her. . . . And what a girl she was! It seemed to come by nature! She could sing, and dance, and play the guitar! . . . I didn’t show her to my neighbours; I was afraid they’d gossip! But there was one fellow, my bosom friend, Gornostaev, Panteley — you don’t know him? He was simply crazy about her; he’d kiss her hand as though she were a lady; he would, really. And I must tell you, Gornostaev was not like me; he was a cultivated man, had read all Pushkin; sometimes, he’d talk to Matrona and me so that we pricked up our ears to listen. He taught her to write; such a queer chap he was! And how I dressed her — better than the governor’s wife, really; I had a pelisse made her of crimson velvet, edged with fur . . . Ah! how that pelisse suited her! It was made by a Moscow madame in a new fashion, with a waist. And what a wonderful creature Matrona was! Sometimes she’d fall to musing, and sit for hours together looking at the ground, without stirring a muscle; and I’d sit too, and look at her, and could never gaze enough, just as if I were seeing her for the first time. . . . Then she would smile, and my heart would give a jump as though someone were tickling me. Or else she’d suddenly fall to laughing, joking, dancing; she would embrace me so warmly, so passionately, that my head went round. From morning to evening I thought of nothing but how I could please her. And would you believe it? I gave her presents simply to see how pleased she would be, the darling! all blushing with delight! How she would try on my present; how she would come back with her new possession on, and kiss me! Her father, Kulik, got wind of it, somehow; the old man came to see us, and how he wept. . . . In that way we lived for five months, and I should have been glad to live with her for ever, but for my cursed ill-luck!’
Piotr Petrovitch stopped.
‘What was it happened?’ I asked him sympathetically. He waved his hand.
‘Everything went to the devil. I was the ruin of her too. My little Matrona was passionately fond of driving in sledges, and she used to drive herself; she used to put on her pelisse and her embroidered Torzhok gloves, and cry out with delight all the way. We used to go out sledging always in the evening, so as not to meet any one, you know. So, once it was such a splendid day, you know, frosty and clear, and no wind . . . we drove out. Matrona had the reins. I looked where she was driving. Could it be to Kukuyevka, her mistress’s village? Yes, it was to Kukuyevka. I said to her, “You mad girl, where are you going?” She gave me a look over her shoulder and laughed. “Let me,” she said, “for a lark.” “Well,” thought I, “come what may! . . . ” To drive past her mistress’s house was nice, wasn’t it? Tell me yourself — wasn’t it nice? So we drove on. The shaft-horse seemed to float through the air, and the trace-horses went, I can tell you, like a regular whirlwind. We were already in sight of Kukuyevka; when suddenly I see an old green coach crawling along with a groom on the footboard up behind. . . . It was the mistress — the mistress driving towards us! My heart failed me; but Matrona — how she lashed the horses with the reins, and flew straight towards the coach! The coachman, he, you understand, sees us flying to meet him, meant, you know, to move on one side, turned too sharp, and upset the coach in a snowdrift. The window was broken; the mistress shrieked, “Ai! ai! ai! ai! ai! ai!” The companion wailed, “Help! help!” while we flew by at the best speed we might. We galloped on, but I thought, “Evil will come of it. I did wrong to let her drive to Kukuyevka.” And what do you think? Why, the mistress had recognised Matrona, and me too, the old wretch, and made a complaint against me. “My runaway serf-girl,” said she, “is living at Mr. Karataev’s”; and thereupon she made a suitable present. Lo and behold! the captain of police comes to me; and he was a man I knew, Stepan Sergyeitch Kuzovkin, a good fellow; that’s to say, really a regular bad lot. So he came up and said this and that, and “How could you do so, Piotr Petrovitch? . . . The liability is serious, and the laws very distinct on the subject.” I tell him, “Well, we’ll have a talk about that, of course; but come, you’ll take a little something after your drive.” He agreed to take something, but he said, “Justice has claims, Piotr Petrovitch; think for yourself.” “Justice, to be sure,” said I, “of course . . . but, I have heard say you’ve a little black horse. Would you be willing to exchange it for my Lampurdos? . . . But there’s no girl called Matrona Fedorovna in my keeping.” “Come,” says he, “Piotr Petrovitch, the girl’s with you, we’re not living in Switzerland, you know . . . though my little horse might be exchanged for Lampurdos; I might, to be sure, accept it in that way.” However, I managed to get rid of him somehow that time. But the old lady made a greater fuss than ever; ten thousand roubles, she said, she wouldn’t grudge over the business. You see, when she saw me, she suddenly took an idea into her head to marry me to her young lady companion in green; that I found out later; that was why she was so spiteful. What ideas won’t these great ladies take into their heads! . . . It comes through being dull, I suppose. Things went badly with me: I didn’t spare money, and I kept Matrona in hiding. No, they harassed me, and turned me this way and that: I got into debt; I lost my health. . . . So one night, as I lay in my bed, thinking, “My God, why should I suffer so? What am I to do, since I can’t get over loving her? . . . There, I can’t, and that’s all about it!” into the room walked Matrona. I had hidden her for the time at a farmhouse a mile and a half from my house. I was frightened. “What? have they discovered you even there?” “No, Piotr Petrovitch,” said she, “no one disturbs me at Bubnova; but will that last long? My heart,” she said, “is torn, Piotr Petrovitch; I am sorry for you, my dear one; never shall I forget your goodness, Piotr Petrovitch, but now I’ve come to say good-bye to you.” “What do you mean, what do you mean, you mad girl? . . . Good-bye, how good-bye?” . . . “Yes . . . I am going to give myself up.” “But I’ll lock you up in a garret, mad girl! . . . Do you mean to destroy me? Do you want to kill me, or what?” The girl was silent; she looked on the floor. “Come, speak, speak!” “I can’t bear to cause you any more trouble, Piotr Petrovitch.” Well, one might talk to her as one pleased . . . “But do you know, little fool, do you know, mad . . . ”
And Piotr Petrovitch sobbed bitterly.
‘Well, what do you think?’ he went on, striking the table with his fist and trying to frown, while the tears still coursed down his flushed cheeks; ‘the girl gave herself up. . . . She went and gave herself up . . . ’
‘The horses are ready,’ the overseer cried triumphantly, entering the room.
We both stood up.
‘What became of Matrona?’ I asked.
Karataev waved his hand.
A year after my meeting with Karataev, I happened to go to Moscow. One day, before dinner, for some reason or other I went into a café in the Ohotny row — an original Moscow café. In the billiard-room, across clouds of smoke, I caught glimpses of flushed faces, whiskers, old-fashioned Hungarian coats, and new-fangled Slavonic costumes.
Thin little old men in sober surtouts were reading the Russian papers. The waiters flitted airily about with trays, treading softly on the green carpets. Merchants, with painful concentration, were drinking tea. Suddenly a man came out of the billiard-room, rather dishevelled, and not quite steady on his legs. He put his hands in his pockets, bent his head, and looked aimlessly about.
‘Ba, ba, ba! Piotr Petrovitch! . . . How are you?’
Piotr Petrovitch almost fell on my neck, and, slightly staggering, drew me into a small private room.
‘Come here,’ he said, carefully seating me in an easy-chair; ‘here you will be comfortable. Waiter, beer! No, I mean champagne! There, I’ll confess, I didn’t expect; I didn’t expect . . . Have you been here long? Are you staying much longer? Well, God has brought us, as they say, together.’
‘Yes, do you remember . . . ’
‘To be sure, I remember; to be sure, I remember!’ he interrupted me hurriedly; ‘it’s a thing of the past . . . ’
‘Well, what are you doing here, my dear Piotr Petrovitch?’
‘I’m living, as you can see. Life’s first-rate here; they’re a merry lot here. Here I’ve found peace.’
And he sighed, and raised his eyes towards heaven.
‘Are you in the service?’
‘No, I’m not in the service yet, but I think I shall enter. But what’s the service? . . . People are the chief thing. What people I have got to know here! . . . ’
A boy came in with a bottle of champagne on a black tray.
‘There, and this is a good fellow. . . . Isn’t that true, Vasya, that you’re a good fellow? To your health!’
The boy stood a minute, shook his head, decorously smiled, and went out.
‘Yes, there are capital people here,’ pursued Piotr Petrovitch; ‘people of soul, of feeling. . . . Would you like me to introduce you? — such jolly chaps. . . . They’ll all be glad to know you. I say . . . Bobrov is dead; that’s a sad thing.’
‘Sergay Bobrov; he was a capital fellow; he took me under his wing as an ignoramus from the wilds. And Panteley Gornostaev is dead. All dead, all!’
‘Have you been living all the time in Moscow? You haven’t been away to the country?’
‘To the country! . . . My country place is sold.’
‘By auction. . . . There! what a pity you didn’t buy it.’
‘What are you going to live on, Piotr Petrovitch?’
‘I shan’t die of hunger; God will provide when I’ve no money. I shall have friends. And what is money. . . . Dust and ashes! Gold is dust!’
He shut his eyes, felt in his pocket, and held out to me in the palm of his hand two sixpences and a penny.
‘What’s that? Isn’t it dust and ashes’ (and the money flew on the floor). ‘But you had better tell me, have you read Polezhaev?’
‘Have you seen Motchalov in Hamlet?’
‘No, I haven’t.’
‘You’ve not seen him, not seen him! . . . ’ (And Karataev’s face turned pale; his eyes strayed uneasily; he turned away; a faint spasm passed over his lips.) ‘Ah, Motchalov, Motchalov! “To die — to sleep!”’ he said in a thick voice:
‘No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to; ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die — to sleep!’
‘To sleep — to sleep,’ he muttered several times.
‘Tell me, please,’ I began; but he went on with fire:
‘Who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Nymph in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.’
And he dropped his head on the table. He began stammering and talking at random. ‘Within a month’! he delivered with fresh fire:
‘A little month, or ere those shoes were old,
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe — all tears; why she, even she —
O God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourned longer!’
He raised a glass of champagne to his lips, but did not drink off the wine, and went on:
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? . . .
But I’m a dull and muddy mettled-rascal,
Who calls me coward? gives me the lie i’ the throat?
. . . Why I should take it; for it cannot be,
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter.’
Karataev put down the glass and grabbed at his head. I fancied I understood him.
‘Well, well,’ he said at last, ‘one must not rake up the past. Isn’t that so?’ (and he laughed). ‘To your health!’
‘Shall you stay in Moscow?’ I asked him.
‘I shall die in Moscow!’
‘Karataev!’ called a voice in the next room; ‘Karataev, where are you? Come here, my dear fellow!’
‘They’re calling me,’ he said, getting up heavily from his seat. ‘Good-bye; come and see me if you can; I live in. . . . ’
But next day, through unforeseen circumstances, I was obliged to leave Moscow, and I never saw Piotr Petrovitch Karataev again.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01